Posted by: Kristen Hicks | July 23, 2010

A Weekend in New Orleans

It is not true to say this is the first time I’ve been to New Orleans, but I feel like I can reasonably state that this is the first time I’ve done it right.

New Orleans has a history and reputation of mythic proportions.  Known for its distinct musical identity, wild and elaborate parties and parades, high fat seafood concoctions (loved by non-vegetarians, or so I hear) and (particularly in recent years) a resilient strength and sense of humor in the face of adversity,  nowhere else in the world is quite like it and it offers visitors (and locals) a thoroughly unique experience.

My first visit to New Orleans was surprisingly authentic.  Unlucky timing set me down into the city exactly one day before a mandatory evacuation was called on account of the coming Hurricane Gustav.  Other than a couple of drinks on the balcony of a bar, I ended up with very little time in town to spend on anything other than joining the locals in fleeing.

The one upside to this experience was that I did get to see how the local pride comes out in droves during a period of possible catastrophe.  Just about every person I met on the streets had found some way to make clear their New Orleans pride–NOLA t-shirts, hats, etc. abounded and there was a heightened sense of community and shared experience.

My second trip to New Orleans happened to coincide with a reunion of sorts for my boyfriend and all of his closest college friends.  Turns out, what they like to do when they’re together is pretty much stick inside and watch movies and play video games, so I didn’t manage to see much of the city on that trip either.

Which means, come this trip, I was fairly insistent that I actually have the sort of New Orleans experience that kept eluding me previously.  I think I mostly pulled it off…

Day 1:

My boyfriend is a Tulane University alumnus and expressed a desire to spend some time revisiting his old campus.  We thus spent the first couple of hours of our first day in New Orleans wandering the Tulane campus, John commenting on things that had changed and the wild stories certain landmarks brought to mind.  We met with one of the Tulane librarians for lunch, a professional associate of mine, who recommended a new Moroccan restaurant called Little Morocco that we all enjoyed.  After two hours of conversation that veered from promoting library usage on college campuses to the best musicians and venues in town and beyond, we left the world of academic libraries to move into the similar realm of local book shops.

We visited the wonderful Maple Street Book Shop, where we chatted for a while with the employees, one of whom was an artist, Francisca Koerner, whose work we were able buy some printed cards of before we left.  I don’t generally do a lot of shopping when traveling (it means I inevitably spend more than intended and end up having to carry more back on my way home than I often have space for), but my main exception to that tendency is keeping my eyes open for items that might be appreciated by my nephews Kayden (age 2) and Rilo (not yet 1):
These two are the only grandchildren of all of their grandparents, which means they have excesses of toys and gifts at their disposal at any given moment.  For this reason, I try to stick with books and other somehow educational items when purchasing for them.  We happened upon a children’s book focused on the adventures of a Louisianan crawfish when he meets up with a Texan armadillo–it seemed the perfect symbolic gift for my Texan-expat nephews coming from myself (staunchly Texan) and my boyfriend (born and bred in Lake Charles, Louisiana).

this is not the puppy I met, but he did look like a fluffier version of this

We also had the good luck to happen upon a book signing being done by a historian who recently published a book of historical photographs of Louisiana. He and John chatted for a while about the history of Lake Charles and other areas meaningful to him growing up while I enjoyed the complimentary wine and met a fantastically sweet and cute puppy (border collie and husky mix).

From Maple Street, we proceeded onto Oak Street, where we found a myriad a cool spots to stop in at.  To begin with, we visited an old friend of John’s, DC, who runs More Fun Comics, a cool little shop filled with an interesting mix of magazines, action figures, dvds and, predictably, comics.

While on Oak Street, we fortuitously happened upon the Lucky Girls art gallery of Cathy Rose.  Ms. Rose

a doorknob in Cathy Rose's art studio

was kind enough to spend some time showing us around her workspace and telling us about the process of creating the singular and fascinating figures she produced.  Her work is unlike anything I’ve come across elsewhere and was a very pleasant surprise to discover.

Right next to the Lucky Girls Gallery was our second adorable little book shop of the day, the Blue Cypress Book Shop.  In addition to a nice atmosphere, the book shop had some cards created by local artists as well.  We particularly noticed a series of cards displaying an artist’s rendition of local pests–a project to make the obnoxious somehow beautiful.  Also notable, posted on one of her bookcases was a Bertrand Russell quote that became a bit of our mantra for much of the rest of the trip:

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time

And on that note–to be continued….

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